Disease and the Divine

From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky

Kabbalah teaches that plagues are the result of defective revelations of divinity.

In the section of this portion of the Torah known as "the admonition" (in Hebrew, "tochacha"), it is written: "G‑d will cause the pestilence to cling to you until it finishes you off of the land you are entering in order to possess." (Deut. 28:21)

The mystical concept of pestilence is as follows:

Know that everything [that occurs] is a function of the elevation process [of the sparks that fell from the world of Tohu]. For do not all souls derive [their spiritual sustenance] from the [fallen] kings [of Tohu] and their refinement, as we have explained regarding the statement of our sages that "all Israel are princes" (Shabbat 14:4)

Now, when there remains an element of waste in the refined sparks which was not separated out, it acts as a poison, killing the person during an outbreak of plague.

Refining reality entails removing the element of ego…from whatever aspect of reality we are working with….

Refining reality entails removing the element of ego or self-orientation from whatever aspect of reality we are working with. When this is done incompletely, i.e. the individual's motives are not pure and he therefore allows an element of self-interest to remain in his use of the physical world, this admixture of impurity acts to misdirect the divine flow that results from releasing the sparks of holiness inherent in the physical world. If not arrested or checked in some way, this misdirection of divine energy results in disease.

chanoch adds: The commentary paragraph above, in my opinion, is a misdirection. We are the cause of what happens to us. The aspect of the desire to receive for one self alone causes the flow of divine goodness to be blocked. Illness is a cleansing mechanism that restores the flow of divine goodness.

Pestilence also occurs when the four names Havayah do not [fully] shine, that is, the names themselves are withdrawn, and all that remains is the four spellings-out. The numerical values of these four spellings-out are 46, 37, 19, and 26. Their total is 128; when to this are added the four kolels [for the four names] and the kolel [for the sum itself] the sum total is [133] the numerical value of the word for "plague" [in Hebrew, "negef"]. This is the source of the plague.

To review the four spellings-out of the name Havayah (72, 63, 45, 52):

letter - 1st spelling out (72) - 2nd spelling out (63) - 3rd spelling out (45) - 4th spelling out (52)

yud – vav-dalet - 6 + 4 = 10 – vav-dalet - 6 + 4 = 10 – vav-dalet - 6 + 4 = 10 – vav-dalet - 6 + 4 = 10

hei – yud – 10 = 10 – yud – 10 = 10 – alef – 1 = 1 – hei - 5 = 5

vav – yud-vav - 10 + 6 = 16 alef-vav 1 + 6 = 7 – alef-vav - 1 + 6 = 7 – vav – 6 = 6

hei – yud – 10 = 10 – yud – 10 = 10 – alef – 1 = 1 – hei – 5 = 5

Totals are 46 – 37 – 19 – 26

It will be seen that subtracting 26, the value of the name Havayah itself, from the four spelled-out values of 72, 63, 45, 52 gives the four remainders above.

"Negef" is spelled: nun-gimel-pei = 50 + 3 + 80 = 133.

Clearly, the withdrawal of the name itself from its full spelling-out (leaving only the letters used to spell out the main letters) indicates a highly abnormal, defective revelation of divinity. This defective life-force comes into the world as disease: life, but a harmful form of life.

It is therefore good to always meditate in times of plague on this name, i.e. the word "negef", this being [in this context] a holy name [of G‑d]. Vocalize it as follows: a shuruk [under the nun], a chirik [under the gimel], and a tzeirei [under the fei], as if it were pronounced "nugifei".

Since this word "negef was derived from an iteration of the name Havayah, it may be considered a derivative name itself". The Arizal does not here explain why to meditate on this word as if it were vocalized with these letters.

chanoch adds: In the Parasha Ki Tavo Chapter 28 Verse 25 wthe word Nigaf which means plague the Ari tells us to change the pronounciation to Nugifah. While the Ari does not why the vowell change it is clear to Kabbalist what is the reason. If students of Kabbalah contemplate the Sefirot relationship with the vowels the reason becomes clear. This is my opinion.

It is also advisable to meditate on the formula for the incense, both in the morning [before the morning prayers] and before the afternoon prayers, when you recite the verses "And G‑d said to Moses, 'take for yourself spices: stacte, onycha…." (Ex. 30:34)

The incense possessed the power to ward off pestilence, as can be seen from the aftermath of Korach's rebellion, when Aaron used the incense to stop the spread of the plague. (Num. 17:9-14)

Specifically, meditate on the first instance of the word "spices" [in Hebrew, "samim"] in this verse, permuting it according to the system of ayik-becher. This will produce a specific name of G‑d, i.e. mem-tav-kuf-vav. I [Rabbi Chaim Vital] do not remember how [the Arizal said] it is to be vocalized.

"Ayik Becher" is the "triple linear transformation" system of permutation. In it, the alef-beit - including the final forms of the letters - is split into three groups of nine letters, which are then aligned in order. Any letter of any triplet (in the chart: of any column) may then be interchanged with either of the other two.

chanoch's Commentary

  • Ayik Bechar Gematria System Information
  • This system takes its name from the first two letter triplets formed this way.

    chanoch adds: The first triplet is Alef Yood Kuf. The second is Beit Chaf Raish.

    Now, whenever we produce a divine name through permutation using the ayik-becher system, we always take the letter in question and transform it into the closest letter following in the sequence. For example, an alef becomes a yud, a yud becomes a kuf, and a kuf becomes an alef. The same applies to the other letters of the alphabet.

    Each of the nine triplets should thus be seen as a wheel.

    Thus, the word for "spices" ["samim", spelled samech-mem-yud-final mem] transforms using the [6th, 4th, and 1st of the] three triplets: vav-samech-final mem, dalet-mem-tav, and alef-yud-kuf.

    How so?

    The samech of "samim" permutes to the final mem of [the 6th triplet] vav-samech-final mem; the mem of "samim" permutes to the tav of [the 4th triplet] dalet-mem-tav; the yud of "samim" permutes to the kuf of [the 1st triplet] alef-yud-kuf

    the final mem of "samim" permutes to the vav of [the 6th triplet] vav-samech-final mem, for as we have said, if the letter in question is the third of the triplet, we substitute for it the first letter of the triplet.

    Thus, the word "samim" permutes to the letter-combination mem-tav-kuf-vav.

    samech → mem

    mem → tav

    yud → kuf

    final mem → vav

    Also, meditate on the fact that the numerical value of this divine name mem-tav-kuf-vav [= 546] is equivalent to the numerical value of the letters used to spell out the name Havayah such that its total is 72 [i.e. 46] plus the numerical value of the posterior of the name Eh-yeh when it is spelled out, i.e. 544.

    Mem-tav-kuf-vav = 40 + 400 + 100 + 6 = 546.

    We saw above that the numerical value of the letters used to spell out the 1st spelling-out of the name Havayah is 46 (72 - 26 = 46).

    The posterior (achorayim) of the name Eh-yeh (spelled alef-hei-yud-hei), as we have explained previously, is given by spelling the word progressively, beginning with the first letter, then the first two letters, etc., i.e. alef, alef-hei, alef-hei-yud, alef-hei-yud-hei.

    The spelling-out of the posterior of the name Eh-yeh, then, is as follows:

    alef – alef-lamed-pei - 1 + 30 + 80 = 111

    alef – alef-lamed-pei - 1 + 30 + 80 = 111 – hei – hei-yud - 5 + 10 = 15 – subtotal = 126

    alef – alef-lamed-pei - 1 + 30 + 80 = 111 – hei – hei-yud - 5 + 10 = 15 – yud – yud-vav-dalet - 10 + 6 + 4 = 20 – subtotal = 146

    alef – alef-lamed-pei - 1 + 30 + 80 = 111 – hei – hei-yud - 5 + 10 = 15 – yud – yud-vav-dalet - 10 + 6 + 4 = 20 – hei – hei-yud - 5 + 10 = 15 – subtotal = 161

    total = 111+126+146+161 = 544

    When these values are added together, we have:

    46 + 544 = 590. This is obviously more than the numerical value of the name mem-tav-kuf-vav, which is 546. The Arizal now explains this difference of 590 – 546 = 44.


    = 1 + (1 + 5) + (1 + 5 + 10) + (1 + 5 + 10 + 5) = 1 + 6 + 16 + 21 = 44.

    It will be seen that the terms "squaring" and "posterior" refer to the same process, i.e. that of spelling out a word progressively.

    It will also be noticed that the value of the letters used to spell out the posterior of the name Eh-yeh considered separately from the letters used to iterate the posterior itself is given by subtracting 44 from 544, i.e. 500.

    Thus, the numerical value of the letters used to spell out the name Ab [Havayah spelled out with yuds, equaling 72] is 46, and the numerical value of the letters used to spell out the squaring of the name Eh-yeh is 500.

    Their combined numerical value is thus 546, the numerical value of the name mem-tav-kuf-vav.

    Thus, we see again that the name associated with pestilence and plague is derived by divorcing the main letters of divine names from the letters used to spell them out, which, again, indicates a highly defective form of divine revelation.

    Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim, parashat Ki Tavo; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

    Emanations of Evil

    Kabbalah describes the nature of spiritual forces of darkness.

    From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky

    In the beginning of parashat Re'eh, the Jewish people were commanded to: "place the blessing on Mt. Gerizim and the curse on Mt. Eval" when they cross the Jordan River and enter the land of Israel. (Deut. 11:29)

    The discussion of how to do this does not take place in that passage but rather is postponed until the portion of the Torah read this week, when the Jewish people are told:

    When you cross the Jordan, the following [tribes] will stand on Mt. Gerizim to [face the Levites when they] bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. The following [tribes] will stand on Mt. Eval [to face the Levites when they pronounce] the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali." (Ibid. 27:12-13)

    chanoch adds: In my opinion, The Torah teaches the Tribes of Shimon and Levy are not to be combined since it represents harsh and lenient judgment. Judah represents Malchut = manifestation. Issachar represents Torah Joseph are the 2 Tribes of Ephraim nd Menashe = Netzach and Hod. Benjamin = the Temple. You think it is 6 opposite 6. You ar wrong. It is 7 + 6 = unity.

    There follow a list of the eleven curses the Levites are to pronounce. The blessings are not mentioned explicitly but according to the Sages they were simply the inverse of Cursed be he that maketh the blind to go astray in the way. And all the people shall say: Amen.

    The curses.

    I have already taught you about Devarim 27:15 to 26. Here is the list:

    Verse 15: Cursed be the man that maketh a graven or molten image, an abomination unto the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and setteth it up in secret. And all the people shall answer and say: Amen.

    Verse 16: Cursed be he that dishonoureth his father or his mother. And all the people shall say: Amen.

    Verse 17: Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour's landmark. And all the people shall say: Amen.

    Verse 18:Cursed be he that maketh the blind to go astray in the way. And all the people shall say: Amen.

    Verse 19: Cursed be he that perverteth the justice due to the stranger, fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say: Amen.

    Verse 20:Cursed be he that lieth with his father's wife; because he hath uncovered his father's skirt. And all the people shall say: Amen.

    Verse 21:Cursed be he that lieth with any manner of beast. And all the people shall say: Amen.

    Verse 22:Cursed be he that lieth with his sister, the daughter of his father, or the daughter of his mother. And all the people shall say: Amen.

    Verse 23: Cursed be he that lieth with his mother-in-law. And all the people shall say: Amen.

    Verse 24: Cursed be he that smiteth his neighbour in secret. And all the people shall say: Amen.

    Verse 25: Cursed be he that taketh a bribe to slay an innocent person. And all the people shall say: Amen.

    Verse 26: Cursed be he that confirmeth not the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say: Amen.'

    11 times the word curse is read in 11 verses. In my opinion these are the most negative action a human being can perform. There opposite is the most positive thinga humannbeing can do. All 22 actions , which connect to the 22 Letters require us to do Teshuvah.

    Do youn know the opposite action to then incest statements?

    What is conspicuous here is the number eleven. Since the divine energy that creates and sustains the world is organized into a structure of ten sefirot (and the Sefer Yetzirah is particular about this number: "ten and not eleven; ten and not nine"), it follows that ten as a number signifies the complete, balanced, and holy order of powers. The number eleven, in contrast, is seen to indicate destructive excess, an egotistic tendency to one-up the divine system. In the words of the Sages: "whoever adds detracts" (Sanhedrin 29a ). It therefore signifies evil and curse.

    The Tabernacle was covered with three curtains: one made of ten curtains fastened together, each woven of a mixture of various materials; one made of eleven goat skins fastened together, and one of tachash skins (the tachash was a multi-colored animal that does not exist nowadays).

    chanoch adds: Many Sages teach the Tachash is the unicorn which still exist in the inner earths.

    Just as there are ten holy sefirot, there are ten sefirot of evil….

    Their significance is that just as there are ten holy sefirot, there are ten sefirot of evil.

    Since evil is a perversion of holiness, it follows that for every shade of holiness (expressed in the ten sefirot), there is a corresponding shade of evil.

    In addition, there is within [the ten holy sefirot] a spark of holiness that sustains them. This is the mystical meaning of the verse "and His kingship rules over all" (Psalms 103:19).

    The common denominator of all ten sefirot is that they are expressions of G‑d's sovereignty over Creation. This is the basis for their mutual inter-inclusion and harmonious co-functioning.

    [The same is true for the ten evil sefirot] with the following difference: The ten holy sefirot are composed of "essences" and "vessels".

    The vessel of a sefira is its identity, or the particular divine power it manifests….

    The essence of a sefira is the divine energy that powers it; the vessel of a sefira is its identity, or the particular divine power it manifests. The more familiar terminology for "essence" in this context is "light". Here the light is called the "essence", since it is of course the divine power that makes the sefira into an instrument or a "useful" tool in the hand of G‑d; the vessel or particular identity of the power being manifest is relatively incidental.

    chanoch adds: Learn to munderstand this last sentence of the commentary of the translator.

    Now [in the case of the ten holy sefirot,] the essence - which is the life force that sustains the sefirot - is absorbed and hidden with them. Thus, it is written in the Zohar, "He and that which He enlivens [i.e. the 'lights'] are one; He and that which He causes [i.e. the 'vessels'] are one." (Tikunei Zohar, introduction, 3b) This is why their number is only ten; they are the ten overhanging curtains of the Tabernacle.

    Holiness is characterized by submission to G‑d's will, and submission to G‑d's will enables an entity to coexist with its opposite (if it is G‑d's will that this occur). Here, although essence and expression are opposite in nature, the lights and vessels can coexist together so long as they both submit to the divine scheme. This submission to divine will is expressed by there being only ten sefirot, the number of balance and containment. The ten curtains that form the inner covering of the Tabernacle, closest to the holiness of the ark and the other vessels, express this submission.

    But in the case of the ten evil sefirot, the holy life force cannot be absorbed inside them, for the holy does not mix with the profane. Rather, it hovers above them and enlivens them from afar. Therefore their number is eleven.

    Since the evil sefirot express rebellion against the divine will, there can be no reconciliation between essence and expression. Furthermore, the essence cannot enter the vessel since the essence is obeying G‑d's will (since it is only by virtue of G‑d's will that evil can exist or have any power) while the vessel is not (as we said, the vessel is an expression of rebellion against G‑d's will).

    Therefore, the life force (the "essence" or "light"), rather than being counted as an aspect of the ten sefirot, is counted as an entity on its own.

    As is explained in the Zohar regarding the eleven [goat-wool] coverings, this is because "whoever adds detracts". We have explained this idea in that context as well. This is the mystical significance of all three elevens mentioned above.

    We will now explain these eleven curses [individually]. The first, "Cursed be he who makes a graven or molten image" (Deut. 27:15), corresponds to the evil known as Arich Anpin of kelipa. Therefore it is said about [this image that the one who makes it that] "he puts it in hiding." This refers mystically to the hidden realms of Creation, for Arich Anpin hides and is clothed within the world of Atzilut, as is known.

    Kelipa ("shell") is a synonym for evil, and in the present context a particularly apt one, since evil is here described as the phenomenon of divine energy surrounding its powers rather than entering them to fuse with them.

    Idolatry is the expression of the will within the soul to break off the yoke of the kingdom of heaven in the false hope of independence….

    Idolatry is obviously the general, overall statement of rebellion against G‑d, and is therefore considered the keter of evil. Keter, and specifically the partzuf of Arich Anpin, corresponds to the psychological power of will; idolatry is the expression of the will within the soul to break off "the yoke of the kingdom of heaven" in the false hope of independence. This is because idolatry is not a religion in the sense that it is the submission of the individual or community to the will of the deity; it is rather an attempt to harness and manipulate the spiritual power inherent within Creation for one's own purposes.

    Atzilut in this context signifies the array of conscious powers of the soul (intellect, emotion, and expression). The will permeates, informs, and runs these powers in a "hidden" (subconscious) fashion, behind the scenes, as it were. Hence the importance of aligning the will with holiness rather than delusions of selfhood.

    For this reason there are thirteen words in this verse until and including the word "in hiding"; these correspond to the Thirteen Rectifications of the Beard of Arich Anpin.

    The actual curse in this verse is exactly thirteen words. The number thirteen signifies the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy, the expression of G‑d's good will and willingness to forgive sin. The bodily correlation of this mercy is the beard, which is seen as a way the head can be channeled down into the lower parts of the body directly.

    As we have explained previously, the normal flow of divine beneficence into reality is patterned after the flow of a new idea or insight from the super-conscious mind (keter) into the conscious mind (chochma, bina, and daat) and from there, through the neck into the torso (signifying the emotions) and on out into expression (mouth, hands, feet, and sexual organs). When a person sins, however, this normal flow has been sabotaged such that there is blockage along the way, most typically in that the power of insight cannot properly affect the emotions - leaving the person frustrated and unable to grow, develop, or express himself spiritually. It is therefore necessary for the normal flow to be bypassed or overridden, and this is the dynamic of forgiveness. In such a case, a small but highly concentrated flow of inspiration emerges from the mind - not through the standard channel of orderly processing, signified by the neck, but through the hairs of the beard. As we have also explained previously, hair signifies a very diminished form of life force: it is constantly growing, but can be cut without causing pain. The beard thus signifies G‑d's attribute of mercy. Elsewhere, the Arizal describes the thirteen "rectifications", or "locations", of the beard, and how each one corresponds to one of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.

    The second curse, "Cursed be he who insults his father or his mother" (Ibid. 16), corresponds to [the two partzufim of] Abba and Imma.

    The next five curses correspond to the first five sefirot of Zeir Anpin: keter, chochma, bina, chesed, and gevura.

    The Arizal does not explain the correspondences between these curses and sefirot.

    chanoch adds: In my opinion, This is due to the need for these five sefirot being secluded in Binah and thus need to remain concealed for now.

    The next, "Cursed be he who has relations with his sister", corresponds to tiferet of Zeir Anpin, for the head of Nukva begins at this level, opposite the chest [of Zeir Anpin], as is known. She [in addition to being his bride] is Zeir Anpin's sister, but this is so only when she is situated at this level, not when she is otherwise. For it is only in this case that they can cling together consummately.

    chanoch adds: This is ann indication that the female receives her upper sefirot through her husband. For the unmarrieed female this ocurs from her cosmic soulmate

    Nukva…personifies a totally different thrust in the divine plan, that of disseminating the Divine idea without and throughout Creation….

    As we have explained previously, both Zeir Anpin and his feminine counterpart, Nukva of Zeir Anpin, originate in Imma, and they are therefore considered "brother and sister". However, they are also intended to mate, and in this context are called "bride and groom" or "prince and princess". As we have also explained, their proper coupling occurs when the intellect (head) of Nukva (expression and actualization) is at the level of the chest (emotions) of Zeir Anpin (inspiration and divine idea). If Nukva were to be the same height as Zeir Anpin, this would mean that her intellect receives directly from his intellect, and this would be counter-productive, for she personifies a totally different thrust in the divine plan, that of disseminating the Divine idea without and throughout Creation. It is thus crucial that her intellect receive from the emotions of Zeir Anpin, the level at which his intellect has been over-staged by the emotion response, the desire to relate the idea of the intellect to the outside world.

    To summarize:

    Curse ---------------------------------------------------- partzuf/sefira

    1. Cursed be he who makes a graven or molten image, abhorred by G‑d, a craftsman's handiwork, and puts it in hiding. ---Arich Anpin

    2. Cursed be he who insults his father or mother.---Abba and Imma

    3. Cursed be he who moves his neighbor's boundary line marker [a form of stealing]. ------------------------------------------------------- keter of Zeir Anpin

    4. Cursed be he who misdirects a blind person on his way --- chochma of Zeir Anpin

    5. Cursed be he who perverts the judgment of a stranger, orphan, or widow. ------------------------------------------------------------------ bina of Zeir Anpin

    6. Cursed be he who has relations with his father's wife. -----chesed of Zeir Anpin

    7. Cursed be he who has relations with any beast.-------gevura of Zeir Anpin

    8. Cursed be he who has relations with his sister, whether the daughter of his father or of his mother. ------------------------------------- tiferet of Zeir Anpin

    9. Cursed be he who has relations with his mother-in-law. --- netzach of Zeir Anpin

    10. Cursed be he who strikes his neighbor in secret. ----- hod of Zeir Anpin

    11. Cursed be he who accepts a bribe to put an innocent person to death. -------------------------------------------------------------yesod of Zeir Anpin

    * * *****************************************************

    Further on in this portion of the Torah, Moses describes the results of the people abandoning their covenant with G‑d. This passage, known as the "the reproof" (tochacha) (Ibid. 28:15-68) consists of exactly 98 curses.

    [These curses] are all a punishment for the blemished caused in [the sefira of] yesod. This is the mystical meaning of the phrase "a sword avenging the vengeance of the covenant" (Lev. 26:28).

    All sins are ultimately sins of misdirected sexuality….

    This whole passage is referred to by the Torah itself as a "covenant" (in Hebrew, "brit"). (Deut. 28:69) Simply stated, a covenant or pact is an agreement between two parties sealed by the clause that if the pact is abrogated there will be consequences. The existence of consequences cements the relationship and makes it serious (or "real") for the parties involved.

    As we have explained previously, the sefira of yesod is where all the powers of the preceding sefirot coalesce into a concentrated essence (the seed or semen), which is then meant to be transmitted, via malchut/Nukva to outer reality as the "birth" of a new reality or way of living. All these powers, from the initial insight on, are a gift of G‑d that He gives us in order for us to use for positive, wholesome, and holy purposes. It is therefore crucial that this seminal message, or energy, be channeled through the proper medium, that of malchut. For malchut, being the personification of G‑d's will "to have a home in the lower realms", is totally directed and dedicated toward using the energy of yesod for the holy purpose of increasing the awareness of G‑d's presence in the world. If a person chooses not to direct his energy into malchut, but instead to divert it into non-holy channels, he is betraying his covenant with G‑d. He is taking his G‑d-given gifts (whether his vital seed or any other gifts, resources, or talents he possesses) and using them for self-indulgent or egocentric ends.

    This explains why the commandment of circumcision specifically is called "brit", "covenant". (After all, the whole Torah is G‑d's covenant with the Jewish people.) This also explains why the Arizal here says that the consequences detailed by the Torah for abrogating its observance can all be seen as the result of betraying the covenant of yesod. In other words, all sins are ultimately sins of misdirected sexuality, and the specific sin of misdirected sexuality in a sense contains within it all other sins.

    The verse about the sword avenging the vengeance of the covenant is taken from the parallel rebuke-passage in the book of Leviticus, 26:14-45.

    Now, the [organ of procreation, the physical manifestation of] yesod, is likened to a bow that shoots arrows [of semen]. We see this with regard to [halachic discussions regarding whether or not a particular discharge of semen can be considered potent. The] seed [is not considered potent if when discharged it does not] shoot like an arrow.

    The simile of ejaculation and shooting an arrow is found in Biblical verses as well. (See Rashi on Gen. 21:16, 49:24, 49:25)

    The target [of the "arrows" of Zeir Anpin] is [the partzuf] Rachel.

    As we said, the only legitimate "target" for yesod is malchut, personified in the narrow sense by one's wife or in the broader sense by the holiness of the vessel as evinced in its being a vehicle for the dissemination of the G‑d-idea throughout reality.

    Therefore, when the Jewish people sinned and thereby caused the holy arrows to be disassociated [from their rightful "target"], the consequence was that ["G‑d shot them at them;] a sudden arrow was their wounds." (Psalms 64:8)

    This verse applies normally to those who "have sharpened their tongue like the sword, and aimed their arrow - a bitter word - to shoot the innocent in secret." (Ibid. 4-5) Here, since the community abuses their arrows, the power of yesod, they bring upon themselves retribution in kind.

    There are 98 curses in this passage, as said above.

    The numerical value of the word for "arrow" (in Hebrew, "cheitz", spelled chet-tzadik) is 98.

    Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Shaar HePesukim, Likutei Torah, and Sefer HaLikutim, Parashat Ki Tavo.

    Ki Tavo: Two Paths of Bikkurim

    Fresh and Dried Fruits

    The mitzvah of bringing the first fruits (Bikkurim) to the Temple, the spiritual focal point of the nation, contains an important message for our own service of God. The Bikkurim offering demonstrates how each individual is able to connect his private activities - the fruits of his labors - to the nation’s holiest aspirations.

    The Mishnah explains how the first fruits were brought to the Temple:

    “Those close to Jerusalem would bring fresh figs and grapes, while those further away would bring dried figs and raisins.” (Bikkurim 3:3)

    The Mishnah describes the Bikkurim offerings of two groups of people: those who lived near to Jerusalem and could bring fresh fruits; and those who lived further away, and had to be content with bringing an offering of dried fruit that could withstand the long journey.

    Two Paths: Torah and Prophecy

    These two situations - living in close proximity to Jerusalem and living some distance away ­- correspond to two spiritual paths the Jewish people have taken throughout history: the path of Torah and the path of prophecy, each with its own advantages and benefits.

    The path of Torah is paved through the development of the Oral Law, as the nation applies Halachah to all aspects of life. The fruit of these legalistic efforts, however, may seem dry and uninspiring. This is particularly true when this path is compared to that of prophecy, which deals with Divine wisdom and lofty matters, and is closely connected to meditative prayer and the Torah’s mystical teachings.

    When the Jewish people lived in the Land of Israel and the Shechinah dwelled in their midst, their spiritual world centered primarily on prophetic enlightenment. We have been promised that the gift of prophecy will return to us - and on an even higher level - thus providing a lofty holiness that engages the heart and soul with knowledge of God. When we will be able to guard this gift, we will merit it once more - when we are back in our land, close to God’s Presence, and protected from the misguided beliefs of foreign nations.

    However, after we were banished from our beloved homeland, it became necessary to take the second path - a path capable of retaining its special character, despite exile and dispersion. This is the path of Torah, as the Sages wrote: ‘From the day the Temple was destroyed, the Holy One has only the four cubits of Halachah in His world’ (Berachot 8a). The legal system of Halachah may appear to be dry and barren; but like the dried fruits of the Bikkurim offering, it contains hidden reserves of spiritual life and vitality. It is this path of Torah that preserved the Jewish people throughout the difficult challenges of a long and bitter exile.

    Complementary Paths

    The switch between the path of prophecy and the path of Torah took place during the Second Temple period, when prophecy ceased. In preparation for the exile that would follow, those spiritual forces of the nation that had previously focused on prophecy now concentrated their talents on the discipline of Halachah, developing and refining the study of Torah. These efforts enabled the Jewish people to survive as a separate nation in foreign lands, distinguished from other nations by an all-encompassing Halachic lifestyle.

    These two paths are reflected in the paradigm of the Bikkurim offerings. Those close to the spiritual center prefer the delicious fresh fruits. However, the gifts from those living far away - dried figs and raisins that may appear to be shriveled and lifeless, but have the advantage of retaining their flavor despite the long journey - are also valued and beloved. Together, the two conduits of Torah and prophecy provide endurance and vitality for the nation’s special service of God.

    Sapphire from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, p. 412